ancient Magyars had a rich folk culture, which incorporated Eastern
themes into its folktales, art, and music. Following the Hungarian
conversion to Christianity in the 10th century, pagan and Eastern
cultural elements were replaced by Western cultural and social patterns,
and Latin became the official and literary language. During the 15th
century Italian artists and scholars introduced the humanistic
Renaissance into Hungarian culture. In the 16th century Hungarian
replaced Latin. In the 18th and 19th centuries Hungary absorbed the Age
of Enlightenment and Western European liberalism. The early 20th century
saw the rise of the “West” school of Hungarian intellectuals, who
favored the integration of Hungarian cultural elements with modern
Western culture. After World War II (1939-1945) the Communist regime
made efforts to pattern Hungarian culture after that of the USSR.
cultural milieu of Hungary is a result of the diverse mix of genuine
Hungarian peasant culture and the cosmopolitan culture of an influential
German and Jewish urban population. Both the coffeehouse (as meeting
place for intellectuals) and Gypsy music also have had an impact.
Cultural life traditionally has been highly political since national
culture became the sine qua non of belated nation building from the
early 19th century. Theatre, opera, and literature in particular played
crucial roles in developing national consciousness. Poets and writers,
especially in crisis situations, became national heroes and prophets.
Governments also attempted to influence cultural life through subsidy
and regulation. During the state socialist era culture was strictly
controlled; party interference was influenced by ideological principles,
and mass culture was promoted.
Hungary's most traditional cultural element is its cuisine. Hungarian
food is very rich, and red meat is frequently used as an ingredient.
Goulash (gulyás), bean soup with smoked meat, and beef stew are national
dishes. The most distinctive element of Hungarian cuisine is paprika, a
spice made from the pods of chili peppers (Capsicum annuum). Paprika is
not native to Hungary—having been imported either from Spain, India by
way of the Turks, or the Americas—but it is a fixture on most dining
tables in Hungary and an important export. Among Hungary's spicy dishes
are halászle, a fish soup, and lecsó, made with hot paprika, tomato, and
sausage. Homemade spirits, including various fruit brandies (pálinka),
are popular. Before World War II, Hungary was a wine-drinking country,
but beer has become increasingly prevalent. Although Hungarians were not
quick to accept them, foreign cuisines appeared in Budapest from the
1990s, a sign of the growing influence of the outside world.